Megaman Legends
 Just friends.
They're "just friends." Honest.

   Back in the heady early days of 64-bit gaming, industry pundits declared 2D dead. All eyes turned to the series that had staked their claim to fame in two dimensions, and the question arose: How would these games make the change? Mario set the standard with his 64-bit debut, and others followed with typically less-than-satisfying results. Bubsy the Bobcat never put in a second appearance after the dismal Bubsy 3D; Sonic had to suffer through Sonic R before he got it right with Sonic Adventure; Bomberman's transition to 3D has been bemoaned far and wide. And the less said about Contra, the better.

Barrel Caskett
Barrel Caskett: Master of the Obvious

   Not surprisingly, one series that fueled the most speculation was Megaman, Capcom's famous "Blue Bomber" who had existed in a comfortable stasis for 10 years across dozens of games in two series on 5 systems. Megaman had barely changed for a decade. Was Capcom up to the task of adding an extra plane of movement to the tight, formulaic gameplay that distinguished the series? Initially, it seemed Capcom was going to ignore the third dimension altogether -- neither Megaman 8 or Megaman X4 for Playstation and Saturn had a single polygon to be seen. Eventually, though, word spread of a work-in-progress for the PSX called "Megaman Nova," which later became "Megaman Neo," which finally came to be known as "Megaman Legends."

Hipbone's connected to the thigh bone...

   Many Megaman fans wrote off the new game as soon as they discovered it was a complete departure from the original series' story and characters. Bad enough that Megaman X had only tenuous and questionable links to classic Megaman; now Capcom was utterly abandoning everything that had made Megaman a hit in the first place. Cartoony robots with wacky names like Gutsman, crackpot schemes by Dr. Wily, precise platforming and disappearing tiles, linear action stages with a thematic connection to the miniboss within... none of these elements were present in Megaman Legends. But while the game's heritage was in doubt, those who gave it a try nonetheless found it was a surprisingly enjoyable game.

"You know, you're really cute when you're angry."

   On the surface, Megaman Legends doesn't seem particularly innovative: it transpires on a future version of earth covered by water, straight out of a Kevin Costner daydream. Society is supported by "Diggers" who explore the structures which comprise the remanants of a lost civilization in search of refractor shards to provide power for the cities which dot the islands about the world. Megaman Volnutt, the game's hero, is one such Digger. His "childhood friend" (wink wink, nudge nudge) Roll Caskett is his "Spotter," whose task is to keep an eye on enemy activity and freak out the player whenever a major conflict is ahead with a sudden, urgent voice-over exclamation.

Teasel discovers late-night Cinemax

   Of course, there has to be some sort of deep personal motive for the characters to go adventuring, or what's the point? Where the original Megaman series took only weak stabs at creating some sort of compelling story to justify the game, the plot of Megaman Legends is woven into the gameplay as thoroughly as in Metal Gear Solid. Megaman is a Digger because he's looking for answers about his life - why was he abandoned as a child? Why is he the only one who can talk to his dancing monkey Data? Why did his adoptive guardian Barrell Caskett decide to name him "Megaman"? Meanwhile, Roll's motives are less ambiguous; she simply wants to find her parents, who disappeared on a Dig when she was an infant.

Tron's the (wo)man with the master plan

   The game's cast is indeed memorable, as Megaman and Roll are both fairly interesting -- a rarity among protagonists who are either bland or blatantly annoying. However, the real stars of the show are the members of the Bonne family, a band of air pirates who happen to cross paths with Megaman at the wrong time, bringing a frustrating end to their days of unhindered buccaneering. While ostensibly evil, the Bonnes are actually likable people who just happen to be dastardly criminals. Sure, they terrorize the citizens of Kattelox Island, but really they're just misunderstood. Big brother Teasel Bonne worries about his sister Tron, who worries about her adorable little Servbots. And baby Bomb Bonne... well, he just sits around and says "Babu" a lot. Add to the mix the fact that Tron gets all tingly around Megaman despite the fact that she resents his ability to blow apart her machines with the greatest of ease, as well as the antics of the Lego-like Servbots, and you have a game oozing with personality.

Bowling night comes to Katellox Island

   Perhaps the most striking thing about Megaman Legends is its presentation. The graphics tend toward the stark side with large, flat, minimally textured polygons and simple character models, but the overall effect is of an extremely stylized anime. The characters are well-animated, and unlike most games their faces are extremely lively with mouths that synch up fairly well to their words, and a wide range of facial expressions. The detail and precision that went into infusing the characters with personality truly shines and is one of the game's strongest assets.

Size doesn't matter
Size matters not... or so Megaman hopes

   Further fueling the game's anime flavor, Megaman Legends is packed with voice acting. While the idea of English dubbing induces cringes in anyone who has played some of Capcom's other titles (Resident Evil, for instance), Megaman Legends sports some excellent vocal work. This comes as a pleasant surprise after the painful "acting" in Megaman 8 and X4; no one here sounds like Elmer Fudd. The cartoony nature of the game lends itself to hamminess rather than forced seriousness. The voices lack the gritty sophistication or Metal Gear Solid or Soul Reaver, but they fit the tone of the game admirably, much like Brave Fencer Musashi. Although some of the minor characters are on the over-enthusiastic side, the voices for the main cast -- particularly Teasel's increasingly shrill and bombastic rants -- are perfect.

 Active Buster
Get equipped with Active Buster!

   Ultimately, the real joy of this game comes in watching the various elements fall into place. The gameplay separates into three categories: dungeon exploration and battles; interaction with NPCs; and set-piece battles with the Bonne family and their increasingly over-the-top devices intended to put a stop to Megaman's meddling. Each aspect of the game is well-executed, and marvelously paced. Just as you begin to feel you've had your fill of walking around town, you'll be pitted against another Bonne invention or sent to explore a newly-uncovered area of the ruins. The ruins, incidentally, are ultimately interconnected, a series of winding labyrinths riddled with enemies and treasures in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of Metroid. The gradual junctions that come to light as you explore exemplify the careful game design that lurks beneath the seemingly simple surface of the game.

   Like most modern adventure games, Megaman Legends features what are questionably referred to as "RPG elements." Namely, Megaman can upgrade his armor and weapons by tracking down items and parts, which Roll can refine into better parts. Some upgrades come cheaply, but high-powered upgrades can cost up to 990,000 Zenny - more than you'll likely see in the entire game! Tracking down the right combinations of rare parts involves completing subquests and playing a few fun but challenging minigames. And weapons aren't the only thing Megaman can spend his money on; during a few battles with the Bonnes early in the game, parts of the Kattelox township are destroyed (the extent of destruction depends on how swiftly you manage to defeat the Bonnes). Megaman can take the philanthropic route and donate some of his Dig earnings to the reconstruction effort. He can also refuse to help out, but too many selfish acts will adversely affect his reputation around town and perhaps even his appearance...

Traffic is always worst during the apocalypse

   Megaman Legends has its share of flaws. The default control setting is horrendously counter-intuitive (though it can be adjusted easily). The simple graphics are functional and allow for large numbers of moving characters to be onscreen at once, but backgrounds are prone to some really nasty clipping and warping thanks to the Playstation's limitations. Also, many of the major battles can be won simply by running in circles and shooting at the enemies, which seem utterly incapable of "leading" their gunfire at you. To be fair, many of the battles are quite engaging, including two battles with the Bonnes which resemble a shooter more than anything else. And while the story is pretty engaging, it stumbles due to a few plot holes; further adding to the frustration, the story picks up significant momentum in the last few hours of gameplay, only to end immediately after making some teasing partial revelations.

   Happily, the cliffhanger ending may not stay unresolved for long. A prequel (The Misadventures of Tron Bonne) is already available, and a true sequel to Megaman Legends will be arriving in America within the next year. Each adds to the overall series mythos as well as to Megaman's tale in particular. With the groundwork laid by Megaman Legends developing into a solid and potentially long-lived series, now is a wise time to hunt down a copy of this excellent but frequently-overlooked game that started what could prove to be one of Capcom's most entertaining franchises to date.

Retrospective by Jeremy Parish, freelance.
Megaman Legends
Developer Capcom
Publisher Capcom
Genre Adventure
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date 04.98
FAQ / Walkthrough / Enemy & Item List
113 assorted screenshots / 2 gameplay movies
13 character / scene sketches
US and Japanese box art / magazine ad